Book Review, Historical Fiction

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper: A Book Review

The Other Alcott

Title: The Other Alcott
Author: Elise Hooper
Published: September 5, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
Obtained: Public Library

The Other Alcott focuses on one of the lesser known Alcott sisters, May Alcott. Louisa May Alcott has just published Little Women, and May wants to study to become a real artist. What follows are whirlwind trips to Europe to study under the best artists, and despair back at the Alcott Family home. Take a step back into the lives of the March sisters as you read about their true counterparts in The Other Alcott.

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There are no words. I devoured The Other Alcott in two days flat, and I’m still thinking about the whirlwind of the novel and how it made me feel. As a huge fan of Little Women, I’ve always favored Amy the most for her precociousness and artistic ability. I feel like Amy got a lot of crap for being selfish and wanting to be perfect and rich all the time, but she had her downfalls about life just like the other March sisters. I wrote a blog post on the March sisters back in September in anticipation of this book, so feel free to READ IT HERE..

In The Other Alcott, we are introduced to May Alcott, the youngest of the Alcott sisters. They are the inspirations for the March sisters. It starts out right as the first half of Little Women is published, and May’s illustrations in the book are severely criticized. This gets her thinking about traveling to Europe and studying art with the best, but she has to rely on her novelist sister, Louisa May, to do so.

The Comparison to Little Women

During the whole first half of the novel, I felt like I was reading about the March sisters again. Hooper managed to create the same ambiance that Louisa May had originally done with Little Women. I absolutely loved learning about the Alcott family and their similarities to the March family. There was also the added bonus of getting into Louisa’s state of mind during her newfound fame.

May dislikes her counterpart, Amy March, and with fairly good reason. She is portrayed as snobbish and spoiled, and these are not qualities that May feels she has. Louisa quite possibly overexaggerated to give Jo March a sort of archnemesis in the storyline.

The second half of the novel felt a little less like Little Women because we follow May to Europe while she studies and sells some art.  It has a different feel than the first half, so we really get to see her spread her wings and support herself while becoming an artist.

All That Art History!

May Alcott visited Europe in real life during a tumultuous time in the Paris art world. Impressionism is being born, fighting the status quo of the art community for its rigid and impossible standards. The Impressionists wanted to bring something new to the art table, and most of Paris just wasn’t having it. Impressionism eventually leads to so many abstract art forms, so getting an inside scoop into that world through May’s eyes is amazing.

I’m an artist, so when it comes to reading about May sketching or painting, I completely visualized what Hooper was trying to convey. All that talk about broad strokes and shapes I did as an art student as well. This is probably why The Other Alcott left such an impression on me. I loved watching May blossom from an insecure woman into a self-reliant female artist living and working in Europe.

Guest Appearances

There were a few characters I recognized throughout the novel, especially while in Europe. Mary Cassatt is probably the most recognizable artistic name, and she was a stunning Impressionist painter. Reading the afterward by Cooper, May and Mary actually became friends in Paris, so it was very interesting to know that May Alcott had so many wonderful connections. I’ve also heard of (Elizabeth) Jane Gardner, who might not have actually encountered May in Paris, but was present around the same time.

There is also Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau back in Concord. These writers and transcendentalists befriended the Alcott family and helped support them much of their lives. Being surrounded by such inspirational writers, it’s no wonder Louisa May Alcott became a writer herself.

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Conclusion

I adored The Other Alcott, and I’m sad that I have to return it to the library! I will be ordering my own copy, though. It will sit on my shelf next to my worn copy of Little Women. This novel was so full of wonderful information, and gave me a sense that I got to continue Little Women as we learned more about May as an artist and an individual. I would definitely read this book again, and would recommend it to anyone who reads historical fiction!

May Alcott’s Art

Rating (It deserves every one of these stars!!)

5 Star Rating

Memorable Quote: “May contemplated a life without Little Women. Where would she be if Amy March did not exist? Probably back in Concord calling one of her old Art Club meetings to order. Although May hated to admit it, Louisa’s books set her off on a path from which there was no deviating now that she understood what was possible in the world.”

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2 thoughts on “The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper: A Book Review

  1. Excellent review! I’m glad this book had that Little Women feel in the beginning, and that the art and history of the second half was well conveyed. I love when authors either know the topic they are writing about, or they take the time to make sure it is as accurate as possible.

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